Tips for Accommodating Employees with Disabilities
You want to know how to get a bunch of HR people in a tizzy? Tell them one of their managers has been failing to provide appropriate accommodations to an employee with disabilities. Just like that, you’ll see them rushing to their computers to type up memos and frantically calling for sensitivity trainings.
Why is this such a hot button issue? Well, for one – discrimination of any kind is wrong. But in addition to that, disability discrimination can get a company into a lot of trouble. And fast.
So if you want to avoid that panicked tizzy, educating yourself and your managers on how best to accommodate those employees with disabilities is key.
It Starts at Hiring
You don’t just have to accommodate those employees with disabilities already working for you: you also have to accommodate those applying for positions at your company. Discrimination claims start at the application process, and it is important for every company to make efforts to ensure they don’t open themselves up to those accusations in the first place.
Hopefully this is common sense, but disabled applicants need to be given the same consideration as any other applicants, and they cannot be turned away purely because of their disability. Companies also have to be willing to make reasonable accommodations to their application process, to include providing a sign language interpreter or conducting interviews in wheelchair accessible buildings when necessary.
And don’t forget the importance of job descriptions. When it comes to disability discrimination claims, the “essential functions” of a job will always come into play. These should be spelled out clearly on your job descriptions to avoid any confusion about what each job entails – and they should accurately represent what is truly essential to each position.
Understanding the Interactive Process
In California, we have the “Interactive Process” to assist in accommodating employees with disabilities. This means that you and the employee should work together to identify appropriate accommodations that can be made.
Whenever any disabled employee makes a request for accommodations, the employer is required to work with them to establish the ways in which their work may be hindered and the potential accommodations that can be made. When necessary, this process can include the request for the employee to provide further information from their doctor in regards to their work limitations. But communication must always be an integral part of the process.
Reasonable accommodations are those that can be made to help an employee do their job, without unjustly disrupting the flow of business. Examples might include the ability to work from home for employees suffering from chronic pain, reassignment to desk duty for an employee who has recently suffered a severe leg injury, or written daily to-do lists for employees with learning disabilities that affect memory.
Accommodations are very personalized, and have to do with both the disability and the type of work required. This is where the interactive process is important, because it allows both the employer and employee to brainstorm potential accommodations together. When no reasonable accommodations can be made, reassignment and an extended leave of absence are both possibilities to consider.
Where Accommodation Ends
Suffering from a disability does not give an employee carte blanche in the office. If potential accommodations would be unreasonably expensive to your company, or would greatly alter the flow of business, or if the employee poses a substantial risk to other employees, an undue hardship can be claimed. Again, all attempts to find potential accommodations should be documented. But sometimes, those accommodations do not exist, and the employment relationship cannot continue.
Have clear policies in place pertaining to the interactive process, and require documentation from the time a request for accommodations is first made. Ongoing communication and thorough documentation are the best ways to protect your corporation from disability discrimination claims.